Ron Phelps - Protecting where we walk award

  • Name: Ron Phelps
  • Volunteer role: Ron has held various roles but is currently on sabbatical.
  • Volunteering with the Ramblers since: 2000

Why they were nominated:

Ron has played a major role in the Avon Area Ramblers for the past 16 years. Bitten by the walking bug after retirement, Ron felt inspired to volunteer when he noticed that the Ramblers were looking for access officers to lead a response to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Ron became a leading voice on access in the area and also kept an informed eye on the paths in his patch by chairing a footpath committee and leading a path wardens project. He also led the way in surveying paths as part of the Big Pathwatch, encouraging others to get involved too. 

A walk and talk with Ron Phelps

What does a typical day of volunteering look like?

A real mix and match! I might be responding to reports of footpath problems from a member of the public or a council rights of way officer. It might involve physically identifying where the issue is as well as corresponding on email with various people. There’s also, setting up and attending meetings – then writing up minutes afterwards, visiting sites of proposed footpath changes, getting new volunteers on board.

What made you want to volunteer for the Ramblers?

When I first joined the Ramblers back in the mid 1990s, it was just to make a financial contribution to the organisation that was clearly supporting what I loved doing. I’d always taken an interest in my community but I didn’t get involved in volunteering until I was made redundant. It seemed to me to be the right thing to do and I didn’t want to be sat at home. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act came into effect in 2000 and I noticed in the Ramblers’ magazine the organisation was looking for access officers. I thought it was time to contribute a bit more. My first task was to recruit a small team to check the Countryside Agency’s maps and to appeal literally hundreds of patches of land. We were instrumental in significantly expanding the area of access land in Avon area.

How do you feel you make a difference?

You don’t tend to experience big achievement after big achievement. Things can move slowly – some problems can hang around for two years. But there are small, satisfying victories. And then when you finally you get a kissing gate in, for example, you feel so satisfied. What keeps you going through the challenges is the sense that you’re doing the right thing.

Why do you love walking?

I think I’m hard-wired to get outdoors – and walking is the best way to satisfy that part of me. It’s the fresh air, the sense of freedom and the fact it can take you somewhere new and you can see a different view every time. I keep a record of all the walks my wife and I do – so far it’s about 350. I love photography so I take my camera so we can look back on all the memories. We’re lucky that we can get to amazing scenery in every direction from where we live, whether it’s the Forest of Dean, the Severn Vale, the Cotswolds, the Marlborough Hills, Salisbury Plain or the Mendips.

If you could change one thing about walking, or the walking environment, what would that be?

As councils are so stretched now, I’d like a legal framework where rights of way can be easily and cheaply created. So if someone knows an area they’d like to walk in – or that they’d like to see connected, I’d like to see that it would be possible without lots of legal hassle and expense. We have a brilliant footpath network, and people are more aware about rights of way compared to 20 years ago, but it’s not complete.